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How to Set Marks for Your Actors to Achieve Proper Blocking and Focus

01.14.13 @ 6:52PM Tags : , ,

Setting marks for your actors is one of the easiest ways to ensure that everyone is on the same page. It helps make sure that not only is the blocking correct, but that the camera team knows exactly what’s going on and they can get proper focus. There are many different ways to actually set these marks for the actors once blocking is complete, and in the video below, Jared Abrams from Wide Open Camera takes a look at some of those used most often.

There is a little bit of NSFW language (for those that need to know):

As he says above, really anything can be used as a mark, especially if the blocking is complicated, and it would help the actor to actually have something they can feel. I’ve used everything from sandbags, to wallets, to phones, and sharpie markers, so as long as the mark isn’t moving, it should do its job. The best way to do it is still with tape, but there are plenty of times where you may not be able to tape the floor, or you’re in a location where tape just won’t stick to the ground. Also, as Jared mentions in his post, making tabs on the tape is extremely helpful, as you want to be able to remove the marks as quickly as possible.

What other materials have you used for marks before? Anything you want to add about your own process to what Jared says above?

Link: How To Mark An Actor For Camera — Wide Open Camera


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  • A key grip showed me a cool low-profile one a few shoots ago: M&Ms. Works best in stuff like grass; put a peanut M&M on the grass, and it sticks out remarkably well to talent, while not big enough to be distracting. I wouldn’t use them too much in an area where dogs might frequent though…that might be Rover’s last easter egg hunt.

    • Golf Tee’s with a coloured piece of tape on it is the proper way to mark on grass. I can see M&M’s getting crushed or kicked between the time you lay it and you start filming. A small twig or branch stuck in the ground works if you need to hide the golf tee even more. If your on Pavement chalk, keep a box of coloured chalk in your ditty.

  • Not for feet, but when I need to shoot an insert involving an actor’s hands, I usually use the arm of a C stand to help orient the actor on where his/ her hands should be.

  • Great post Joe, I wasn’t aware of all these different shapes for locking actors.

  • Back when I used to be a camera assistant on big productions I hated laying down marks. During blocking with A list talent and A list directors, the last thing anyone wants to do is wait for the lowly camera assistant to tape a mark on the ground.

    I used to have a bunch of pre-ripped and tabbed tape in different colors for each actor in the scene pre-taped to my legs ready to plaster down for the various positions. Most of these A list actors didn’t even wait for me to finish or even notice me crouched at their feet and god help me if I ever tripped one over and god help me if I failed to get a mark down for a position – whats worse, getting yelled at by a big name actor, a big name director or your 1st, AC, Camera Op or DoP?

    Of course, some actors go out of their way to help and others like to screw you around (like Adrian Paul from Highlander who would poke me with his sword sometimes while I was scrambling around at his feet…

    Some tips on marking:

    - Never use fabric camera tape on expensive varnished floors or carpet only use paper tape.
    - Colored mini marker sandbags are great for outdoors. Other alternatives include sidewalk chalk for tarmac (make sure you have a brush to remove them when done) or powdered chalk for when raining.
    - For grass and other soft surfaces, cut up rubber matting into T-markers and paint them with different colored nailpolish; Make a hole in the center for a golf tee to secure them in place.

  • Raymond Tremblay on 01.14.13 @ 10:57PM

    I nail or screw a pair of slippers on a wood floor, all the talent has to do is to walk bare feet and slip is feets in those slippers and voilà.

  • I like Raymond’s suggestion. We should come up with absurd ways to mark an actor.

    For example:

    When the talent reaches the mark I have someone off camera shoot them with a BB gun in their leg. I only pump it up once or twice so it doesn’t hurt too much (unless it’s a horror film in which case I pump it up 7-10 times so that we can see their pain). Then all you have to do is remove the pop sound of the gun and bb hitting the talents flesh in post.

    • Dude that’s a great idea! If it’s a head and shoulders shot you could easily have a PA slap a booty cheek or two when they hit their mark.

      • Attaching bungee chords around their ankles works well too. When the resistance from the bungee gets to tight the actor stops. When you call “cut” they relax and instantly return to their number 1 position. Best of all, bungees are totally silent unlike those rusting old manacles and chains…

    • Raymond Tremblay on 01.15.13 @ 10:37PM

      Just tried something today taped two metal plates on position and asked the costume designer on our set to buy shoes 2 sizes longer that needed by the talents, putted magnets in each shoes it work well but now the sound man is scratching his head asking what is that sound when we put the power on the magnets just like in Breaking bad this last season.

  • the snad bag bit is so funny, I laughed my dick off.

  • Car mats work great as they’re a different feel, cut to smaller size.

  • Daniel Mimura on 01.23.13 @ 8:36PM

    Loved the sandbag one at the end, and the attitude that went along with it.

    I’d add another kind of mark—the ones for the camera. With handheld or steadi, operators need marks too, and the best way to do this is usually a V in the width of the lens (a wide, more obtuse V for a wide angle, and a narrow, more acute V for telephoto.)

    Another one I’ve used on low budget productions without cine tape is to tie a rope to the actors…they generally hate that, but wandering around in a close up on a 50 at f1.4 is the only way to have a fighting chance.

  • Also- off camera nut shot (when actor keep mugging on camera and flirting with the female extras)